Integrated Annual Report 2014

Manufactured capital and intellectual capital

Research and development

We spent approximately R7 million on Safe Technology research and development projects in 2014.

From the outset, we have considered the development of safe technology as a fundamental strategic objective. After the 2014 executive strategic session, the executive Safe Technology portfolio was established. Its interim strategy, due to be finalised in 2015, is the outcome of a 100-day process to identify our immediate operational needs, which include:

  • research into industry-leading practices and strategies, review of technologies we have developed and peer group initiatives among major mining companies;
  • engaging with industry peers about their technology strategies, as well as research institutions in South Africa (Chamber of Mines Research Organisation, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the University of the Witwatersrand), OEMs and selected industry technology experts;
  • visits to mining companies (Amplats, Impala Platinum Holdings Limited, AngloGold Ashanti, and the Burnstone and Modder East mines);
  • industry participation: we have established a collaborative approach to new technology with all the major mining companies as well as the Chamber of Mines Gold Producers Committee;
  • structure and staffing: we have established and staffed the Safe Technology function; and
  • internal review of the technology and strategies commonly used.

The interim strategy has steered the Safe Technology focus towards areas that can accomplish short- and long-term improvements in safety, efficiency in current mining operations and productivity, commensurate with innovation in new product development and gold extraction methods, such as:

  • Old gold recovery: reclamation of gold lost or left behind during mining operations in the form of fines, ultra-fines, crush pillars and spillages.
  • Current mining process improvement: reducing employees’ exposure to danger areas while increasing output and decreasing costs.
  • Future-state mining methods: facilitating a 24-hour mining cycle, maximising utilisation of assets, and facilitating the conversion of Resource to Reserve of deeper level and secondary orebodies.

The Safe Technology strategy is positioned against the background of LoM projections, orebody complexity, productivity profiles and cost pressures, as well as our growing portfolio of capital expansion projects.

One of the Safe Technology projects that emerged during the 100-day process is stope mechanisation. To ensure the long-term sustainability of our operations, we are looking at innovative approaches to deep-level mining. A paradigm shift in hard-rock mining is required for us to remain competitive locally and globally. Safe Technology has, therefore, started a stope mechanisation programme to enable us to reduce costs and paylimits with non-explosive, continuous production. Safe Technology is expected to receive the first prototype in March 2015 and will enter into rigorous testing.

The projects developed by Safe Technology are due to be rolled out in 2015 while the division remains focused on mine design for our planned expansion projects and 10 macro projects.

We are currently pursuing 25 registered micro projects and 10 macro projects. Micro projects are in alignment with Safe Technology’s current mining process improvement strategy. Micro projects are either initiated by the Safe Technology department or put forward by the operations, and include smaller safety enhancing and production optimisation projects.

Examples include roof-bolting optimisation and standardisation, localised hydropower mining, winch signalling, automated cleaning methods, continuous dust monitoring and suppression, structural inspection and maintenance management system (SIMMS) optimisation, diesel particulate matter reduction and control (interim measures), among many others.

Registered macro projects are aligned with Safe Technology’s old gold recovery and future state mining method. Macro projects are initiated and driven by the Safe Technology department with operational assistance from selected mining units. All macro projects represent a significant departure from conventional mining methods and aim to incorporate industry, and often world-leading technologies. Examples of groundbreaking developments include the Sibanye Gold locomotive. The locomotive incorporates a power unit, moving away from conventional and inefficient direct-current drives to highly efficient, regenerative, permanent magnet alternating current (PMAC) drives. Phase 2 of the locomotive will also make use of solid state lithium-ion yttrium-phosphate batteries, which substantially increase in operating life and charging capacity compared to the lead-acid equivalent. Coupled to the solid state batteries will be a Tier 4 generator set to charge the battery in terms of a predefined and optimised discharge cycle. Other macro projects include an adaptable, ultra-low-profile, mechanised platform capable of supporting various attachments. Various functionalities are being developed, including systems to facilitate rapid drilling cycles in areas where conventional mining practices restrict accessibility and face time or a completely revolutionary, non-explosive, 24-hour mechanised mining machine. Macro projects vary in scale and complexity but all share a common characteristic: a radically innovative paradigm shift in mining method and process.

Safe Technology endeavours to participate mining industry collaboration in technology development through intercompany, regulatory, administrative and institutional relationships. Our established network of OEMs, institutions and mining companies allows us to capitalise on past experience. This places us at the forefront of appropriate technology for our deep-level South African gold mines.